Next up in the series of positional previews are the wide receivers.
What to expect: Talk about a motley crew. Miami's ragtag bunch of receivers don't have much combined experience in this league, and what experiences they have had don't inspire tremendous confidence that they'll be able to consistently help out the quarterback. The good news here is that this group is incredibly young and that means they have a tremendous amount of room to improve. Ernest Wilford is the oldest of the bunch and he is not yet 30 years old. Half of the ten receivers entering training camp are rookies. I'm not expecting great (or even above average) things on the surface from these guys, but I do expect this season to be one of big strides made in the development process. This team still lacks a true No. 1 receiver, and while Ted Ginn will most likely play that role this year, I'm not sure he's cut out to be the top guy. The team doesn't have a guy of that caliber on the roster, so that's something that will have to be addressed after this season. Until then, this hungry group of youngsters will have to make due.
Here's a closer look at the individual receivers currently on the roster and what can be expected of them this coming season:
For his rookie season, Ginn certainly didn't quiet all the nay-sayers who criticized his high draft position, but nothing short of being in contention for Rookie Of The Year honors would have done that. Those lofty expectations were flat out unreasonable. The performance he did turn in was rather pedestrian, but he showed enough promise to to back up the notion that he can indeed be a starter in this league - probably not a true No. 1, but I don't doubt his ability to be a quality starter. With either Ernest Wilford or Derek Hagan starting opposite him, Ginn will be matched with a big possession-type receiver. That's a good complement for Ginn's blazing speed deep-threat prowess. Ginn showed that he's tough enough to catch a ball while running through the middle of the field, but his true value to this offense is as the deep bomb target. Besides, I don't know how long he'd last, given his slight build, if his prime role involved him taking constant beatings. For his sophomore season, I think Ginn will catch between 50-60 passes for 750-800 yards.
As far as his return duties, I was pleased with what Ginn showed, but he has several areas that he needs to improve on. Most importantly, he needs to stop calling for so many fair catches. He called for 15 of them out of only 39 punts. That's too much. He's a bonafide weapon as a return man, but he's only a weapon if he's actually returning the ball. Obviously some of his fair catches were smart (I'm not advocating that he stop calling for them altogether), but too many were simply bad judgments, made when no one was even close to him. Part of the reason was probably rookie jitters, so hopefully he will show that he is past that this year. He also needs to work on securing the ball when fielding kicks and punts, as he had several bad muffs. Overall, I'm not concerned with Ginn being overworked as both a starting receiver and a returner this season, but in the future I would not mind seeing him cede punt return duties to another player.
Wilford is Miami's biggest receiver, standing 6'4" tall, and I think he'll probably begin the season as the starter. I'm not sure he'll hang on to that job for the entire season though. You see, Wilford has always played best in a reserve role. His lone season (2006) as a starter in Jacksonville paled in comparison with his other seasons when he was the third receiver. He is 29 years old, so maybe it's too much to expect that he'll now prove capable of starting. Rather, I think he makes a very good third receiver, who presents a gigantic target in the redzone. His main value to this team will come in his ability to move the chains. Over his career, he has turned an amazing 77% of his receptions into first downs. That kind of ability to keep drives alive will be key for Miami's young quarterbacks to get in a rhythm.
If anyone is going to unseat Wilford for the starting job, I think it will be Hagan. Before he was let go, receivers coach Terry Robiskie criticized Hagan for being too immature and unfocused. With all the drops that Hagan has had since coming into the league two years ago, I was with Robiskie. Hagan had never had a real problem with drops in college, and then over two seasons in limited action with Miami he's dropped 8 passes. But this is his third season, and he appears to be turning a corner. Parcells and Sporano have heaped praise on him, and it seems like Hagan may finally have his head where it belongs. His physical tools are not the problem. He's big (6'2"), tough, and has shown the ability to get open. He's also only 24 years old. It is far too early to give up on Hagan just yet. His ceiling as a starter is greater than Wilford's, and if you combine that with the fact that Wilford plays better as a third string guy, then this situation just sets itself up for Hagan supplanting Wilford as the starter opposite Ginn at some point this season - perhaps even as early as opening day. Hagan likely won't have a great season in terms of conventional numbers, but I'm confident he's going to show the team that he is worth keeping around as part of the future.
Camarillo will forever be remembered by Miami fans for making the season-saving catch last year against Baltimore and ensuring that Miami would win at least one game. But besides that, he's a pretty useful player to have around. He is a quality gunner on special teams, and he can hold down the fourth receiver spot. He's got pretty good size and he catches the ball very well. At 26 years old, he's still fresh too. What's not to like about this guy? When you get down to your fourth and fifth receivers you are looking for someone who can fill multiple roles. Camarillo does exactly that, and he does it well.
Kircus is a tall and fast receiver who has had his career derailed by leg injuries and legal troubles off the field. That is not a combination that I would be looking for. Granted, the coaching staff has singled him out on a few occasions to praise him, but I'd rather see the fifth receiver spot go to one of the rookies or a waiver-wire pickup with more upside and fewer injury concerns.
Bess' college numbers look incredible at first glance, but they were largely a product of Hawaii's run and shoot offense. Still, Bess has impressed the coaching staff so far in minicamps. He's small at only 5'10" and he's not fast enough to be a deep threat, but his route-running is excellent and he has the agility to get open on a consistent basis. He also offers some return abilities to boot. Bess is probably the best rookie receiver on the Dolphins roster, and his potential to turn into a serviceable #3 or #4 receiver down the road warrants his inclusion on the 53-man roster.
Miami signed Foster as an undrafted college free agent and has begun the process of turning the former college QB into a receiver and return specialist. He's absolutely tiny (5'7", 170 lbs.), but he is like a Swiss Army knife combined with a sparkplug. He's real fun to watch (his Youtube highlight reel is now legendary among Dolphins fans) and he has a lot of people rooting for him to succeed. However, the fact is that he's a 5'7" kid who has never played receiver before. I'm not writing him off, but I do think he'd best be served by a year on the practice squad. Perhaps he could eventually take over Ginn's punt return duties next season while serving as a backup receiver and gadget-play extraordinaire.
Lymon, an undrafted college free agent, is another big, tall (6'3") possession receiver that Parcells and Jeff Ireland love. Of course, he comes with several questions about his maturity, work ethic and character. If he shows mental growth throughout training camp, he may lock up a spot on the practice squad.
No one really knows much about Wynn since he hasn't played organized football since 2004. He's a real longshot to make the practice squad, obviously.
After Tab Perry was lost for the season with an injury and David Kircus hurt his hamstring again, the team went out and signed Dunlap as injury insurance. And that's really all he is. He's a camp body whose main job is to lessen the reps that the other guys go through each day in practice. He never impressed in college, so it would be quite a story if he made even the practice squad.
Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Ted Ginn
2. Ernest Wilford
3. Derek Hagan
4. Greg Camarillo
5. Davone Bess
6. Jayson Foster (practice squad)
7. Selwyn Lymon (practice squad)
Training camp battle to watch: Wilford vs. Hagan for the starting spot opposite Ginn.